Terms and Conditions Apply

Where it all began...my winning story for Ford.


Terms and Conditions Apply
by
Christine Emberson



The contents of Alex’s wardrobe, his entire CD collection and his Rothman Year books fitted neatly into four boxes, all now neatly stowed away in the boot. I would have been impressed if his leaving didn’t hurt so much. Now don’t get me wrong, I was relieved to see the books go. They had hogged my shelves taking up much valuable book space and many a time I had vigorously argued that Bridget Jones was a classic. So it was good riddance – to the books that is.
Alex closed the boot down with a neat click and slowly walked back into the house. I hovered awkwardly on the doorstep and then followed him into the kitchen. Tea, I thought; a cup of tea is always the answer to a difficult situation. I busied myself, clattering mugs and teaspoons, glad to be occupied. Alex sat at the kitchen table tracing the wood grain with his finger.
“Told you that Fiesta was a good buy, plenty of room in the boot, didn’t need to fold the seats down either,” he said proudly.
I nodded and placed his mug in front of him. His name ‘Alex’ emblazoned on it. I wondered whether he would take it along with the rest of his stuff, possibly wedge it between his beloved books. The mug had been a gift at the beginning. That day wandering around Greenwich buying silly gifts for each other seemed an eternity away now. We had sat in the park eating ice-cream and, quite unexpectedly, Alex had mentioned us living together. He had been flat-sharing and constantly returning home to a sink of washing up and food growing in the fridge courtesy of his odious flatmate. My flatmate, Clare, who was far from odious, had been fortunate enough to meet Mr Stocks and Shares and was presently ordering her Smallbone kitchen for their nice little cottage in the Cotswolds, had moved out six months ago. I had been struggling with the rent but had been too nervous to ask Alex to move in. I was convinced he would think it was too soon. And, indeed, it had been.
Eleven months we had lasted living together and four of those had been us rubbing each other up the wrong way. I had become apprehensive of walking into my own home in fear of what might be waiting. Alex had decided that a vibrant colour scheme would suit the flat. I have yet to discover how many coats of magnolia are necessary to cover a scarlet painted bathroom. Yet, despite us not being able to live together I loved him. Alex had been the first man I could actually say that to. I had told him on a gloomy Monday morning travelling the escalator at Bank Station. He had casually draped his arms around me and I kissed him and whispered ‘I love you.’ Without hesitation, he said it too. “I love you”’. Not the cop out “me too”. It had been the full three words. Twenty minutes later in the sanctuary of my office cubicle, I had screamed excitedly down the phone to Clare that he had said it, uttered those three wonderful, life-changing words.
Today, watching him across the table sipping his tea, it was as if it had all happened to someone else. Alex’s decision to move out at first had been a relief. Sudden images of my own space, my own colour scheme even had got me fired up, convinced it was for the best. But then watching him pack, dismantle his things, change our surroundings, well now it just hurt like hell.
“Talking of Daisy,” I ventured hoping I could dispel the tension – the tea drinking not being as effective as I had imagined.
Daisy! Oh, why do women insist on giving a car a name?” Instead of waiting for an answer Alex went on, “I mean Daisy, what sort of a name is that? If you had to give it a name, why didn’t you go with something masculine, something strong, powerful – something like… Maximus Decimus Meridius?”
I laughed out loud. “Don’t be ridiculous. I couldn’t drive along talking to Maximus Deci… oh however you say it, about how rotten or great my day has been. Talking to Daisy is far more fitting. And, incidentally just how many times have you watched Gladiator?” Secretly, I knew it was double figures.
Alex raised his eyes but chose to ignore my question. “Look, we better just make a decision on who is keeping the car or Daisy?”
I winced. It sounded dreadful being put so blunt but I was glad he was referring to her by name. We had managed to sort virtually everything except Daisy – unless you count the blender, for some strange reason we had a fair old squabble about that. Alex couldn’t imagine life without his fruit smoothies and I need my frothy hot chocolate. But now beloved Daisy had been placed in the arena. We both knew she was going to be a sticking point. Although neither of us needed her for work – both being commuter victims, she was a definite for weekends. Let battle commence, I thought despondently.
“I’ve always been the one to clean her” I started.
“So do I” Alex retaliated sharply.
“I mean a proper clean – not a quick whisk around with the Dustbuster!”
“Well, it’s you that eats in the car all the time. You make the mess.” He raised his voice, “Let’s face it, it wouldn’t need cleaning if you didn’t have chips in there every time you and Clare went out”.
This was true, many a night, pre-Mr Stocks and Shares, Clare and I would stop off after the pub or the cinema and grab something calorific. We would then drive down the motorway with the windows wide open in the hope that the smell would miraculously evaporate.
“And..” Alex went on. “I maintain her, oil, water and …stuff,” he announced. “Hah” he quipped firmly, as this would be his closing statement.
“You mean you drop her into the garage for her to be serviced when I remind you and I think you’ll find I do actually know where the dip stick is. I’m not one of those females you know. And…” I decided to add for good measure, “she was my choice – the colour and everything”.
“Silver – I thought that was a joint decision?”
“I like to think of her as platinum!” I announced tartly.
Silence. We both eyed each other.
“This isn’t getting us anywhere,” I relented and sighed.
“Well, we can agree on that at least”. Alex drained the last of his tea and placed the cup, loudly, on the table.
“Look,” he tried. “We both want Daisy so we’re just going to have to come up with a plan to share her.”
“Really? How?” Up until today I had visions of Alex just throwing in the towel, marching away and calling it a day. Now suddenly an opportunity was presenting itself. In my head, thoughts were racing – this could be a chance to start again. It was really what I wanted, a new beginning. Living together hadn’t worked, it had been too soon. But dating? We were good at that. It was a tenuous chance but still a possibility.
Alex drummed his fingers on the table. “How about alternate weekends?”
“Go on.” I urged. This was getting better.
“But we’ll have to have some ground rules, some conditions. Let’s say we have to return her to
each other with a full tank of petrol and we go halves on servicing, tax and insurance. What do you think?”
“I suppose it could work. We could give it a trial period to see how we get on.” I suggested, not wanting to sound too keen, but then realising I was nodding enthusiastically.
“OK, let’s give it six months”.
“Right, six months” I said with a loud and too obvious sigh of relief.
“Shall we shake on it?” Alex outstretched his hand. It occurred to me that in all the time I had known him I had never actually shook his hand, nothing as formal.
I placed my hand in his, but we didn’t really shake it was more of a gentle squeeze. He got up to go and picked up the car keys. I followed him to the door.
“I’ll bring Daisy back on Saturday morning then, about ten”.
“Fine” I answered, mentally registering he wasn’t planning a wild Friday night if he could be up and about by ten. I then quickly added, “Drive carefully.”
“I will” he winked, his cheeky wink that made my tummy clench. I instinctively stepped closer to him and, without hesitation, he kissed me on the cheek before he turned and jogged down the front steps. It was the same, just like all our previous mornings together when we used to say goodbye.
Self-conscious, I jumped back and closed the door. I stood very still with my back leaning against the paintwork, my face burning. Then I smiled and allowed myself a wonderful indulgent thought. With that one brief kiss I believed it could happen, the mechanics of our relationship could be rekindled. Alex would have to be back in a few days. Thanks to Daisy we would have regular contact, the wheels could be put back in motion. A chance to not lose touch – a chance to start again -a chance to get the colour scheme right!
THE END

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